Sunday, September 30, 2012

Divine Equines - Equine Assisted Spiritual Growth and Development









Some call this time here on earth a time for character development as God allows and gives his children opportunities to try on His heart for our own. Horses are one of God's best-kept secret "weapons" for growing and deepening our spirits in this life-long journey. My name is Beckie Boger and it is my great joy to partner with horses through Divine Equines, LLC (Equine Assisted Spiritual Growth and Development) to help women experience God's presence in the midst of their busy lives.

Who would have thought that God would/could personalize a spiritual mentoring session this summer at Hope Rising in Fredericktown, Ohio through a sky full of crows and red-tail hawks and the smell of Skin So Soft on a horse? "Grief" was embodied in a slightly chubby chestnut pony, and my client wanted to start by observing her grief and loss at a distance on a green, grassy slope- gaining some much-needed perspective. To quiet the mind and create space and awareness in the body we practiced what I call Eph' pha' tha' ("Be thou opened") breathing, then a relaxing Temple Scan and an energizing Son Salutation stretch. Cue the summer sky full of floating, circling birds, messengers from God in her eyes. We eventually moved to the pasture with the horses when she was ready to "touch grief" and make friends with it, especially when she was comforted by the scent of Skin So Soft that her deceased sister used to spray on their horse. When she finally felt "grief" gently leaning into her while they stood quietly together, she experienced the wisdom of gently leaning back into “grief” for peace and support. I couldn't have orchestrated or modeled a more intimate reflection of the presence of God for her that day.

How do we open our eyes to see God dwelling among us? I believe He is in our midst while in the pasture and the presence of horses! If you are a soul-weary and/or spirit-seeking woman, the horses and I have a unique, relaxing, companioning experience to share with you at Hope Rising! I can be reached at info@beckieboger.com 740-625-5661, or www.beckieboger.com

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Staying Connected!


Day One 
Scanning the horizon!  

I have been implementing some of the ground exercises I learned at http://www.naturallifemanship.com  this summer with some really exciting results in our EAP program.  I won't talk about actual sessions but instead will talk from the horse side of things (as an equine specialist) and why I am so excited about this way of facilitating trauma focused equine-assisted therapy sessions.

I have owned an 18 yr arab mare since birth.  Her momma was a rescue that I stumbled across in terrible shape.  The poor mare was heavily pregnant but skinny, wormy and caked with manure.  She was confined to a filthy stall, with no food or water.   I brought her home and nursed her back to health just in the nick of time.  The foal was born healthy and full term 2 months later.

I was able to watch this foal being born which has stayed in my mind as a very special memory.  Considering I was having babies myself right about this time I also marveled at how silent, peaceful and fast this birth was!  I know as a prey animal that is what they must do in order to help protect themselves from predators but none the less it was a wonderful visual for me as I labored.  Maybe that was the beginning of horses giving me a visual representation of a particular character trait to use in my own life.



Fast forward to my life now 18 years later.  My husband and I are in the 'downsizing' phase of life as we are becoming closer to an empty nest.  I have always had horses at home and in my backyard but as part of the plan of moving into a smaller place that requires less maintenance I needed to reduce the number of horses at home.  I always imagined Abbey to be with me her whole life.  It is not often a person, or horse, has that opportunity and I thought I could give this to her.  But another opportunity came up.

As I became more involved in EAP I saw the qualities in her as an excellent therapy horse.  She is sensitive, smart, pretty :), an easy keeper with no health problems and is very. very people oriented.  I think most arabs are very people smart.  I had gone to the Natural Lifemanship clinic and loved what they were doing.  Our program had minis and a donkey which fills a need but the minis in particular pose a bit of a problem when trying to 'connect' with them - especially for someone who is just learning how to do that with a horse, due to their size.  Our body position in relation to the horse's is important and with the minis we have a much smaller area to work.  When someone is learning, the sutble body language shifts of just millimeters difference may be harder for a person to pick up.   Abbey was saddle trained by a good friend when she young using natural horsemanship techniques.  That in itself was amazing to watch because 'drill', dominance and repetition was not part of her experience.  She caught on quickly because of her level of trust and retained what she learned even though my friend was only able to come by sporadically.   I can honestly say this horse has only seen the good side of people.  That also is a rare thing for most horses.


Abbey was very instrumental in my healing from PTSD several years ago when she was a green broke horse.  I learned how to be brave in spite of my fears.  I learned how to 'feel' the tension in my body and release it in order to calm her in the face of new challenges.  What I was learning in therapy played out on horseback and I learned how to overcome my anxiety and fears in my life due to a trauma history.

The equine program that I work for was interested in her as a therapy horse and she was integrated into their herd and practice.  We have begun using her in individual sessions and it is so very exciting to see this at work with actual clients.   All our work in EAP is on the ground at this point even though Natural Lifemanship has a wonderful riding portion that helps with self regulation.  That is what Abbey was teaching me years ago I just never had a name for it!  Abbey, as most horse do, has a desire to connect with a person but the person needs to give her the correct body language and cues.  She is sensitive and expressive so it is easy to read her body language which becomes helpful for the clients in recognizing the somatic symptoms of anxiety and stress as well as comfort, releasing tension and calmness.  Abbey will connect (which is similar to what some people know as 'joining up' but without using a round pen or driving the horse forward to the extent it is done in actual joining up) easily since she is a very people oriented horse and like I mentioned above has only seen the good in people.  In the horse herd she is a follower and by nature not dominant.  She is gentle and has a very maternal side to her which comes out when with timid, young or fearful people.  She also does NOT like a heavy hand and will react strongly (although not aggressively) to someone who is too 'in your face'.



Clients relate to that desire to find a 'safe place' they see in the horse to relieve their anxiety.  The experience of having a horse connect with you can be a major milestone in a person's healing.   It touches on that need in us to find safety and comfort in a connection with others.   The basis of the Natural Lifemanship technique is to use the principles of a healthy relationship to help a client do that with a horse that can then be applied toward human relationships.  Attachment, autonomy, boundaries, respect, focus, direction, intention, purpose, safety, control, anger, detachment all come into play and make for a non-threatening way to talk about and process how a person goes about having healthy, balanced relationships in their life.  The horse brings to it their own immediate, in the moment, feedback which the client obviously sees is a result of their approach to the relationship.  As they change their approach the horse changes its reaction.  It is a beautiful thing to watch.   Although there is a touch more 'horsemanship' in this model than EAGALA it is still very much focused on the client's needs.  It just so happens that good relationship building principles that work in people relationships also work with horses.  I think that is another gem in this model-- the horse's needs are taken into consideration.  Anyone who knows a bit about equine-assisted work knows there is a spectrum of models ranging from using the horse as a 'spiritual guide' (very horse directed ex. EPONA) to the horse as a means for people to project meaning on to the horse's behavior (very people directed ex. EAGALA).  I like that Natural Lifemanship has found what looks to me at this point the best of both worlds in the middle.  

Now that I have gotten to see Abbey in actual sessions it feels very healing to know that she can have a life changing impact on so many people.  This brings so many things full circle in my life that is so much better than just having her in my own backyard.   I love learning more and more about this work and am energized as I see people benefiting from it in significant ways.  


What Do You Say to Yourself?


We all have a running commentary in our minds of things we tell ourselves.  Things we heard as a child seem to rerun in our heads for the rest of our lives unless we are able to tap into those thoughts and examine them.   Are they words that build you up or tear you down?  How does this self talk  effect your thoughts, emotions, habits, behavior and actions toward others?  

One way in which our therapy donkey was able to help in an equine-assisted therapy session recently was to be a walking billboard of sorts to these destructive thoughts which then bring on destructive emotions.  

The donkey is so wonderful as a therapy animal because they often have a naturally, low keyed personality and can be so expressive with those lovely long ears and big eyes.  They also form strong bonds with people and want to live in harmony in a herd.  Having them as part of the interaction in the sessions brings a richness, depth and, quite honestly, humor to our sessions.   

As the equine specialist I help with the activities and interaction in the sessions as well as watch the horses' (and donkey's) behavior and comment on that when it is appropriate.  I also got the non-toxic and washable paint to be used in a group session exploring negative self talk.   The clients words were written in large letters on the donkey as examples of negative self talk and the resulting emotions.  Frustrated, alone, helpless, aggression, bitterness, depression are emotions that often result from what can be for some a relentless barrage of hate, disrespect and disregard we heap on ourselves.  

Thankfully that can be turned around.  The first step is often just being aware that this type of talk is there in our heads.  It is not the truth of who and what we are.  

The donkey played an important role in helping to get those thoughts out in the open so they could be examined and discussed as to their validity.   The donkeys expressions and body language in relation to the group dynamics is also very valuable.  And one of the things I love, as a horse person, is that all that we ask of the equines in our sessions is to just be themselves!  

I washed and groomed the donkey afterwards for which she thoroughly enjoyed!  We got some nice bonding time together and her coat once again gleamed with a healthy shine (until her next dust bath).  Just beyond the pasture in the picture below is a large, round, bare spot this donkey has made as her designated dusting spot!  

It is an honor and a privilege to be able to be a part of equine-assisted therapy sessions and to see the growth and change in people.  It is truly inspiring to see people overcome obstacles and struggles when they have the right support and willingness to learn.  It is also fascinating as to the depth and sensitivity the horses (and donkey) brings to our interactions.  I marvel at how very tolerant horses are in our treatment of them.  I think back to some of the horse shows I went to when my daughter was young and showing horses. It was not uncommon to run into the mind set of a very domineering, controlling type of behavior toward the horse as a way to 'train' them for whatever event they were participating in.  Of course not all people who show horses are this insensitive but as I spend more time with horses in this therapeutic I am appreciating how much they can teach us!   

There is a wealth of information coming out as to the effectiveness of equine assisted therapy and experiential learning as this field opens up to bigger audiences.  It is not just for horse person.  I am using this blog as a way to share some of what I am learning and also to share the many different ways this type of work looks and feels.  Please consider following along as I continue down in this fascinating journey! 







Thursday, September 6, 2012

Fear vs Courage


My Remmy

It's a challenge walking that tightrope between pushing the envelop to get out of your comfort zone but not becoming reckless.  Anytime you sit upon a 1000 lb. animal you take on the risk of injury.  To dwell on the injury part can bring about tension, fear and hesitation but to block it out can mean veering toward risky behavior and carelessness.    

I have never been a daredevil on horseback but am finding a sense of empowerment as I take calculated risks on my horse.  I have a young horse that I am transitioning from track to trail.  I end up most often riding alone so we have had to work thru all the new sights and experiences we encounter on the trail.  My mare has a great temperament but she can be a little hot sometimes too.  So the question is how do I keep moving forward in spite of the risks?

Horses teach a person real quick how to think ahead and be alert to potential problems.  But the other side of the coin is horses also pick up very fast if a person is afraid, feels insecure or is timid.  So it doesn't work to  try to fake your way thru it.  They know!

I was riding the other day along the road past my neighbors house to get to my normal trail riding spot.  Remmy was uncharacteristically unfocused and jittery.  She had caught sight of the neighbor's laundry hanging out to dry which included some large white sheets billowing in the breeze way in their backyard. She continued to want to stop and stare.  You can know a horse is entering into their reactive bran when they stare and not blink.  They are thinking 'is this thing going to eat me?' I am thinking, 'You better not spook away from this because a large ditch and road is on the other side!"   I let her stare for a moment and then urged her on.  It becomes part of the relationship building when you learn when to 'urge' and when to just allow them time to think.  Each horse is different and each horse brings to each ride their own natural fluctuations, moods and opinions!  Yes, horses have opinions.  Remmy, being Remmy did NOT bolt onto on coming traffic trying to get away from clean laundry.  Thankfully.

As part of my experiences with riding Remmy, I am trying to tell the difference between moving forward out of fear and moving forward courageously.   You would think it would be easy but it is not always so clear cut.  Both come from a feeling of movement but fear is moving away from something while courage is moving TOWARD something.  As a childhood trauma survivor I have spent a huge part of my life moving AWAY from something out of fear.  As a middle aged adult I want to be proactive and move TOWARD something.

Horses have the natural ability to sense our emotions and body reactions, under saddle and on the ground.  For many years now I have learned how to relax and control my breathing and body on horse back to help calm and reassure my horse for times like above that I have to confidently reassure her that she won't be eaten!  I also have experienced the good, calm feelings that come as a result of spending time with the horses- even if it is just cleaning out stalls.  I learned at a Natural Lifemanship Clinic a couple months ago about somatics and horses.  It was fascinating.  They, in my opinion, are putting all the right pieces together to help trauma survivors heal - in body, mind and spirit.

During this time I also was receiving Somatic Experiencing sessions with Elizabeth Whirlabout .  These sessions were to help release tension and stop the physiological trauma response I was experiencing due to a recent, traumatic loss.  My body was stuck in essence in a flight, fight or freeze mode and I needed unstuck.  During my very first session with Elizabeth I was able, for the first time in my life, connect with the feeling I learned on horseback to calm my horse, in a setting other than with the horses. Elizabeth is an excellent practitioner as well as a kind and wonderful person.  This may not sound like much to some of you but believe me it was a huge jump forward for me and gave me a tool I had not had access to before.   As a trauma survivor my body would keep me on high alert for danger and then set me up for anxiety, depression, racing thoughts and a whole variety of not so pleasant or productive ways of being or thinking.  In this state it is really only possible to move out of fear.   Your whole motivation is about how to get safe, release 'pressure', get relief because in your gut it is all just about survival. Long range plans or goals are not in the forefront when your body is reacting to trauma.  To move forward with courage takes being able to feel empowered and a sense of safety (or at least trust that safety is POSSIBLE).  I am very grateful to Elizabeth for her help in this process.

I urge you, whether you are a mental health professional, a trauma survivor, a horse person or someone curious about how and why horses are used in a therapeutic setting to look into the links above and explore.  Equine-assisted therapy and learning is growing by leaps and bounds as we learn more about the biological response to trauma and horses natural abilities.  

By the way, I LOVE comments!  If a horse has helped you in some way feel free to share.